Countdown to Valentine’s Day | The Reader’s Shelf

While romance novels delight all year long, they have a seasonal moment to shine brightly as we approach Valentine’s Day. Five librarians offer their picks to mark the occasion and highlight the range of the genre.

Emma Gladstone isn’t trying to seduce London’s most angst-filled duke when she shows up at his home wearing a wedding gown. She just wants to be paid for the dress she made for Ashbury’s ex-fiancée, thus saving herself from financial ruin. Ashbury thinks otherwise: he’ll marry Emma (he needs an heir) if she abides by his stipulation that love is not an option. But in romance, love is a certainty, and plucky Emma makes her way into the duke’s broken heart. Witty and thoroughly delightful, Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal (Avon. 2017. ISBN 9780062349064. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062349071) will have readers ­swooning.

When Bex Porter arrives in Oxford, she unknowingly takes the first step on a path that will lead to her face being on the front page of every British tabloid. Her plans to study take a turn when she falls for the clever and cryptic boy next door, who just happens to be the future King of England. The Royal We (Grand Central. 2016. ISBN 9781455557110. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455557127) by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan spins the whimsical and realistic tale of Bex and Prince Nick’s decade-long, topsy-turvy search for true love in the public eye. With characters of humor and depth, fierce sibling rivalry, breakups and makeups, and dashes of genuine heartache, this is the rare romance that just may shock with its ending.

Nightingale Books, established by Emilia’s father, has long been the heart of Peasebrook, a small English village in the Cotswolds. Following his death, Emilia must decide if she is able to carry on her father’s legacy while struggling with a precarious business and an intense level of grief. As with the movie Love Actually, Veronica Henry’s captivating and heartwarming How To Find Love in a Bookshop (Pamela Dorman: Penguin. 2017. ISBN 9780735223493. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780735223516) weaves together a number of story lines, requiring characters to be brave enough to step outside their comfort zone, seize the moment, and fight for what they deserve. Readers are reminded that while the road to true love may be challenging, a happily ever after is the reward at journey’s end.

Romances are often unpredictable, and Emmy Abrahamson’s How To Fall in Love with a Man Who Lives in a Bush (Harper Paperbacks. Mar. 2018. tr. from Swedish by Nichola Smalley. ISBN 9780062678034. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062678041), a funny, charmingly uncomfortable story, is one of the most surprising of all. When a homeless man named Ben plunks down on the park bench next to aspiring novelist Julia, she isn’t expecting to be swept off her feet. Ben’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s unusual, and he lives contentedly in shrubbery. Could this relationship work? The two are prepared to find out as they challenge each other and shake up their worlds. Both social commentary and uplifting love story, Abrahamson’s first novel for adults is a winner.

Amanda Bouchet’s “Kingmaker Chronicles” trilogy concludes with Heart on Fire (Sourcebooks Casablanca. Jan. 2018. ISBN 9781492626077. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492626084). Those who have followed the political, domestic, and romantic exploits of Cat and Griffin will be pleased. There is a fully resolved ending to Cat’s arc as well as interesting new developments that hint at future books to come. Bouchet, who proved her talent for worldbuilding in the first two titles, pulls in even more gods and goddess and mythical locales. Detailed and emotionally resonant, this epic adventure will please Game of Thrones and Wonder Woman fans seeking more romantic emphasis.

Let Us Dream (CreateSpace: Amazon. 2017. ISBN 9781544766195. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781386089599) by Alyssa Cole is set during the suffragette era and follows the fortunes of two compelling characters: Bertha, a former prostitute who runs a club in Harlem, and Amir, an immigrant from India. Both have dreams for what America could be but face the harsh realities of their lives in 1917. Their relationship unfolds as Bertha works to change the fate of the ignored working women she knows. Meanwhile, Amir finds his own footing in his new country and begins to plan a future. If romance offers examples of the new genre of Resistance fiction, Cole demonstrates how it is done, with grace and dimension.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

This column was contributed by Nanette Donohue, Champaign Public Library, IL; Kimberly Wells, Denton Public Library, TX; Sharron Smith, adjunct Readers’ Advisory Service instructor, University of Western Ontario; Jen Baker, author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Historical Fiction (ALA Editions) and retired Readers’ Advisory Librarian, Seattle Public Library; and Neal Wyatt. Selections and annotations are in the order given

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